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Hero. Legend. Good Bloke.
John Peel OBE, 1939 - 2004

Red Lick Records



"Spotlight on Lucille Bogan - Part 1"
by Max Haymes

Lucille Bogan (Bessie Jackson)One of the finest and toughest of all blues singers, Bogan (nee Anderson) was born in Amory, Mississippi in Monroe County in 1897. Her family soon moved to Birmingham, Alabama which was to remain her base until the late 1920s. At this time she moved northwards to Chicago; returning to Birmingham in the 1930s. Sheldon Harris (1) tells us she moved out to the West Coast in 1948 and died there the same year, of coronary sclerosis. Survived by a son who might still be living, this is just about all we know of this great blues singer. (2).


Thankfully, we have a series of excellent records (over 90 sides) made between 1923 and 1935, to which we can refer to for some possible clues to fill in at least a part-sketch of the woman and blues singer known as Lucille Bogan and also as “Bessie Jackson”. While looking for facts based on blues lyrics can sometimes be of dubious value, nevertheless a part of the singer’s character and personality comes across to the listener; indeed some blues lines can be taken literally as the truth.

One of the recurring subjects in Bogan’s blues was prostitution. The most famous of these being “Tricks Ain’t Walking No More”. Mistaken by U.S. black feminist writer, Michele Russell in 1982, as a moral stand on the part of the singer, who refuses to further degrade herself even though she’s ‘broke an’ hungry’; in fact “Tricks” is clearly a prostitute’s lament because of a dwindling supply of customers or ‘tricks’. Poor blacks were hit by the Great Depression long before it became ‘official’ as Bogan moans:

“Times done got hard, money’s done got scarce,
Stealin’ an’ robbin’ is goin’ to take place.
Ref: ‘Cos tricks ain’t walkin’, tricks ain’t walkin’ no more.
I said tricks ain’t walkin’, tricks ain’t walkin’ no more.
An’ I’m goin’ to rob somebody if I don’t make me some dough.”

“I’m goin’ to learn these walkin’ tricks what it’s all about,
I’m goin’ to get them in my house and ain’t gonna let them out.
Ref: ‘Cos tricks ain’t walkin’, tricks ain’t walkin’ no more.
I said tricks ain’t walkin’, tricks ain’t walkin’ no more.
An’ I can’t make no money, don’t care where I go.”

“I got up this mornin’, with the risin’ sun,
Bin walkin’ all day an’ I ain’t caught a one.
Ref: ‘Cos tricks ain’t walkin’, tricks ain’t walkin’ no more;
I said tricks ain’t walkin’, tricks ain ‘t walkin’ no more.
An’ I can’t make a dime, don’t care where I go.” (3).

Bogan recorded this song three times during 1930 and she obviously felt a strong affinity with poor, black women driven by desperate social and economic conditions to the “oldest trade in the world” only to find that the Depression had hit that too. Things didn’t seem much better by 1935:

“I credit one man, it was to my sorrow,
It’s cash today, credit tomorrow.” (4).

But even in those hard times there was an alternative to being a street-walker in the South; selling illicit booze or being a bootlegger. This was another popular theme in Bogan’s repertoire, as titles such as “Sloppy Drunk Blues” ,“Bootlegger’s Blues” and “Cravin’ Whiskey Blues” testify. On another of her blues “Whiskey Selling Woman”, she wants to set up her own “booze society” which quite naturally excludes policemen!

“I feel superstitious, something’s goin wrong , (x2)
I ‘ve got my house full of beer, and my backyard full of corn.”

“I’ve got four cases, tomorrow at that county jail, (x2)
And two is for my whiskey, and two is for my forfeit-bail.”

“The judge he said, ‘put a padlock on my door! (x2)
And I can’t sell whiskey, and I can’t give parties no more.”

“If I had a thousand dollars, I’d taken my way,
If I had a thousand dollars, I’d taken my way.”
Spoken: “Hey-hey!”
And I would make this whole town sloppy drunk one day.”

“I would build me a still on every street in this town. (x2)
And I wouldn’t allow police, fifteen miles around.”(5)

She recorded this again in 1933 as “Superstitious Blues”, with Walter Roland on piano, and substituted one verse with these lines:

“Next time you arrest me, you better put me in a cell,
Next time you arrest (me), jailer, put me in your cell.
‘Cos the more you arrest me, more whiskey I can sell . (6)

Tell ‘em, gal, tell ‘em!

An advert. for “Perfect Race Records”, c .1933 ; depicting a Lucille Bogan recording,
Drunk Blues”.




Click here for Part 2


1.”Blues Who’s Who”. Sheldon Harris. Da Capo. N.Y.1989 (Reprint).

2.An article appeared in “Living Blues” No.44 in 1979(p.p.25-28) which I have yet to locate. And this year Guinness have published a “Who’s Who Of Blues” but adds nothing new under the entry “Lucille Bogan”.

3 . “Tricks Ain’t Walking No More”.
Lucille Bogan vo.; Eddie Miller or prob. Frank James pno.c.mid-Dec.1930.Chicago.

4.” Stew Meat Blues” Lucille Bogan, as “Bessie Jackson”, vo. Walter Roland pno.8/3/35. New York City.

5.”Whiskey Selling Woman” Luc­ille Bogan vo.; Charles Avery pno. late March,1930.Chicago.

6.”Superstitious Blues” Lucille Bogan, as “Bessie Jackson”, vo.; Walter Roland  pno. 20/3/33.  N.Y.C.

7. I include the following title although less than ten pages actually concerns blues:
“But Some Of Us Are Brave”.
Michele Russell. I982.The Feminist Press. N.Y.

Copyright © 2001 Max Haymes. All rights reserved.

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